This is the agreement God made with His Son to glorify His Name through the salvation of sinners.
Why do you call it a covenant “of grace”?
In order to distinguish it from another covenant that God made with men, i.e. the covenant of works.
Where does the Bible teach us about this?
We find this covenant referred to in a variety of different places throughout Scripture. First, consider Paul’s letter to Titus:
Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, 2 in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, 3 but at the proper time manifested, [even] His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior… (Titus 1:1-3)
How does this verse teach us about God’s covenant with Jesus in eternity past?
From this verse, we learn that God made a promise of salvation “long ages ago” or πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων. This means that God made a promise of salvation before time began, before the time of creation. The question naturally is asked, to whom did God make this promise? If there was no creation, then God could not have made this promise to any person.
Does Scripture teach us who this might be?
It does. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He emphasizes that He is on a mission from the Father.
I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. (John 5:30)
I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another shall come in his own name, you will receive him. (John 5:43)
We see this most clearly in Jesus’ High Priestly prayer where Jesus refers to the authority which His Father had given Him:
Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, 2 even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. (John 17:1-2)
He speaks of the work that the Father had given Him to do:
I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. (John 17:4)
The message Jesus had was given Him from the Father:
Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received [them] and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. (John 17:7-8)
What else does Jesus teach us about His mission?
He teaches us that it was intended for a certain group of people. He says that He was praying on their behalf:
I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; (John 17:9)
Furthermore, Jesus prayers for this group of people is not just for those who are His people now but also for those who will become His people in the future.
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word; (John 17:20)
Where else does Jesus describe His mission in these words?
We have the most succinct statement of this in John 6:
For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:38-40)
What can we conclude from all this?
From these verses, we conclude that the first and second person of the holy Trinity had an agreement. The terms of this agreement was that the Son would come to earth and redeem a select number of people whom the Father had chosen and given to Him for that purpose. This teaches us that Jesus was sent on a mission by His Father in heaven.
When did this agreement take place?
It took place in eternity past. We have a hint of this already in the high priestly prayer. Jesus prayed:
Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)
What does “before the foundation of the world” mean?
This means before the founding (καταβολῆς) or creating of the world.
What other reasons can be given in support of the idea that God the Father and God the Son entered into this agreement in eternity past?
First, what other possibility is there? Second, we have already learned from Paul that salvation was promised “long ages ago” or πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων. The NLT translates this verse:
This truth gives them confidence that they have eternal life, which God—who does not lie—promised them before the world began. (Titus 1:2)
To whom would God have given this promise of salvation if there was no one yet even created?
God the Father gave this promise to His Son.
What meaning would a promise of salvation have if there was no one yet created much less fallen sinners who needed salvation?
Here we must conclude that all this was part of God’s eternal decree of creating mankind and saving them when they fell. We know that God planned all these things
What Scriptures teach us about God’s eternal plan of salvation?
There is an expression in Scripture which is important for this truth. It is the phrase “before the foundation of the world.” See Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 1:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. (Ephesians 1:3-4)
Note that believers are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ and that they are elect in Christ. From this, we conclude:
- All spiritual blessings come only to those are united to Christ;
- Believers were united to Christ long before they were ever created;
- The election of believers also happened in Christ.
Where else do we find this expression “before the foundation of the world”?
See Peter’s teaching in First Peter 1:
If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay [on earth;] knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, [the blood] of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you… (1 Peter 1:17-20)
Again, we see that Christ was known by God before creation ever took place. This knowledge was not a simple knowing but a knowing with affection and with choice. In light of the previous passages, we conclude that God the Father chose or elected Jesus and all those who are united with Him.
Jesus also promises those on His right that they will inherit a kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world. (Matt 25:34)
Yes, and this is to be understood as before the foundation or creation of the world. Bengel writes:
ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου, from the foundation of the world. The preposition ἀπὸ, from, corresponds with the Hebrew מ, which signifies before; cf. Eph. 1:4. source
Above, you said that there was a covenant between the Father and the Son. So far, we have seen that there was an agreement of sorts and that the Father sent the Son on a mission of salvation. Why do you call this agreement a covenant?
Jesus teaches us this in Luke 22.
And there arose also a dispute among them [as to] which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ “But [it is] not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. “For who is greater, the one who reclines [at the table] or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines [at the table?] But I am among you as the one who serves. “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:24-30)
Note the word “grant.” This is the word for covenanting; see here. This verse could very well be translated:
“…and just as My Father has covenanted to Me a kingdom, so I covenant to you…”
What other indications do we have that there was a covenant between God the Father and God the Son in eternity past?
Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3 certainly lend itself to this understanding. Paul writes:
Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as [referring] to many, but [rather] to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. 17 What I am saying is this… (Galatians 3:15-17)
Here Paul says the same thing as what he said in Titus 1:2. God made a promise to Abraham and his seed, but then Paul shows that really the promises were made to Christ. This is who we are to understand by “seed” in this verse. A few verses later, Paul says it again:
Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. (Galatians 3:19)
Again, Paul clearly teaches that God made a promise of salvation to the seed; i.e. to Christ. Believers participate in this salvation only as they are joined to Christ. Where there is no union with Christ, there is no salvation.
Are there other Scriptures which teach a covenant between God the Father and God the Son?
Yes, in Psalm 2, Jesus announces that He will speak about God’s decree:
I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. 8 ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. (Psalm 2:7-8) more here.
How can we know that Jesus is speaking in this Psalm?
In three separate places, the New Testament authors speak of this Psalm. First, Paul references this Psalm in his Pisidian Antioch sermon:
…that God has fulfilled this [promise] to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘YOU ARE MY SON; TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU.’ (Acts 13:33)
The author of Hebrews also quotes the second Psalm:
For to which of the angels did He ever say [what he said to Jesus], “YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU“? (Hebrews 1:5)
Finally, the author of Hebrews again:
So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, “YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU; (Hebrews 5:5)
In each of these, the assumption is that Jesus is speaking in this Psalm about God the Father’s mandate to Him in eternity past.
Why do you call it a “mandate”?
The word decree in v7 means a prescribed task or a mandate; see this explained here.
I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. (Psalm 2:7)
From all of the above, what conclusions can we draw?
We conclude that God made a covenant with the Son in eternity past concerning the salvation of His elect people. God the Father gave His chosen people to His Son and sent Jesus to earth to save these people from their sin and to reconcile them to Himself.
Why did you previously call this a covenant of grace?
Because this is a covenant which brings grace or unearned favor to sinful men. To understand this properly, we see it over against God’s covenant with Adam in the garden of Eden.